Writer’s Block and Rough Drafts

©hugh writer's block
Creative Commons License photo credit: bioxid

Does this sound familiar?

You’re in the middle or beginning of writing and you’re stuck about what to do next. You just look at that page and look at it and look at it until you suddenly wake up in a mental hospital.

About ten years ago, I read a book called Untechnical Writing, by Michael Bremer. It’s for beginning Tech Writers, and he spends a couple of hundred words talking about writer’s block.

In short, he says that writer’s block is just a failure to make a decision. (He credits Milt Rosen with giving him this advice in a screenwriting class.) In other words, no matter what happened before in the story or article (even if you haven’t started), you just have to decide what’s next, or what angle to take, or what’s the best way to describe the scene or action.

Writer’s block is paralyzation caused by fear of making a bad decision. You can’t decide what happens next (or first) because everything you think of seems to suck, or cause problems, or be imperfect.

To kill writer’s block, you have to make that decision, allow it to be bad, and move on. Which brings me to something that Bremer didn’t mention, but really should have when advising people to make a bad decision.

Here it is: Your first draft is allowed to be bad, is supposed to be bad, and almost definitely will be bad.

It’s often more important to make a decision than it is to make the RIGHT decision. You’ve just got to get it down on paper. Later, you can change it. If that means rewriting whole sections, then so be it. That’s the writer’s cross to bear. It’s a lot better to have something to rewrite than it is to have that white page forever.

To recap:

1. Writer’s block? Just make a decision, good or bad, and move on.
2. Having anything on paper is better than having nothing.
3. First drafts are supposed to be bad.


“People have writer’s block not because they can’t write, but because they despair of writing eloquently.” Anna Quindlen

“If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.” Margaret Atwood

“Don’t get it right, just get it written.” James Thurber

“I think writer’s block is simply the dread that you are going to write something horrible.” Roy Blount, Jr.

“Lower your standards and keep writing.” William Stafford

And here’s a post by by Neil Cross all about first drafts.

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